In perhaps the cutest scene from the movie, our main character, Charlie (Eddie Murphy), escorts one of the day care kids to the bathroom. The little boy has some problems with using the bathroom, but Charlie gives the child some handy-wipes and some encouragement and lets him go into the bathroom alone. A few seconds later, the boy emerges…
"Hey man, how'd it go in there?"
That dialogue pretty much sums up Daddy Day Care: it misses. Being neither a good movie nor a bad movie, DDC is a run-of-the-mill family film that will merely help you pass a few minutes of your day. Aimed at kids, the film will entertain them once, but they'll never clamor for more. It's lukewarm entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Charlie Hinton (Eddie Murphy, I Spy, Bowfinger, Beverly Hills Cop) is the head of the organic foods division of a cereal company. (At least we're led to believe it's a cereal company, but it could be just about anything since they forgot to adequately establish this little nugget of information.) Along with his friend and co-worker, Phil (Jeff Garlin, Full Frontal, Bounce), they were given the dubious assignment of developing a new product called "Veggie-Os!" Yep, a cereal with the delicious taste of broccoli and carrots. Yum! As any person should know, the cereal is a complete and utter failure, and soon Charlie and Phil are out of work when the company decides to shut down their division.
But Charlie is confident that this is but a minor setback and that he'll find new work within a week. Six weeks later, he's still looking. In the interim, Charlie's son Ben has been enrolled in the most prestigious day care center in town, Chapman Academy, as run by the dominatrix-like headmistress, Ms. Harridan (Anjelica Huston, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Addams Family). After dipping into their emergency funds, Charlie and his wife Kim (Regina King, Legally Blonde 2, Enemy of the State, Friday) realize that even with her salary as a lawyer, they cannot afford all their bills, especially those of Chapman Academy. As such, the two travel around town trying to find a quality, inexpensive day care center. They have no luck.
With an idea as grand as the Segway, Charlie realizes the solution to all of his problems: daddy day care! He and Phil will open a day care center, it will give them the cash they need to pay their bills, and it will resolve their babysitting issues.
Though the neighborhood parents are quite wary at first, Daddy Day Care becomes a success. More and more children enroll, causing Ms. Harridan to take note. She doesn't believe in that fun-style of day care, so she does everything in her power to quash the competition.
But along the way, Charlie finds a way to make the center stay alive and work. He learns a lot about himself, his son, and children in general. It's a wholly rewarding experience, which also just happens to help pay the bills.
"Fun for the whole family." That's the normal claim that gets tacked onto movies like this, but I'm not sure if anyone dared say that for DDC. I can't really imagine kids or adults getting all that excited for this tepid piece of work. The now classic argument that people bring up (myself obviously included) is the change in Eddie Murphy. Once a man of fantastic comedic timing and a deliciously dirty repertoire, Murphy has changed his focus and now gives us such fare as Dr. Dolittle, The Nutty Professor, and this. Eddie Murphy, family man—who would have guessed? Should he be doing movies like this? Why isn't he doing the type of material that gave him his fame and fortune? Who are we to say what he should do?
Reviled by critics during its 2003 release, DDC did go on to earn over a $100 million. How? There are a few simple reasons. First, there are so few family films out there that parents are apt to take their kids to any film that would pass as "wholesome" entertainment; anything to keep the kids quiet for an hour and a half is a welcome relief—or so I hear. Second, people liked Murphy's previous family-friendly films, so they tended to ignore critics in hopes of getting another enjoyable movie. And, lastly, this isn't a bad movie; it's pretty tame and does have the occasional moment of fun.
I am assuming that all of you are adults, or at least teenagers, so is there anything in this film that would entice you, the more "sophisticated" viewer? A little, yes. Actually, make that a qualified yes, because what I found funny will probably not appeal to the masses. Here are the three things that stand out for me as the enjoyable aspects of the film:
(1) The "I missed" scene detailed above. It's incredibly brief,
but it's really "cute."
But this last point also highlights a huge problem with DDC, and that is the almost complete lack of character development. Everyone is one-dimensional at best. Charlie is an overworked husband who spends more time doing his job than raising his family. Ms. Harridan is a strict disciplinarian who doesn't believe in fun. And so it goes from there. But even worse are the characters that don't even rate a single dimension. Kim. Who's Kim? Charlie's married? You'd never know from the film. Phil. Who's Phil? Charlie's best friend…and? It's a very lazy movie that fails to take any time to try and make us care about the characters.
Lastly, I want to make mention of the music used in the film. The songs used, including "Walking on Sunshine," "ABC," and "Takin' Care of Business," though appropriate and cursorily related to the film, are so overused that they've become trite. Instead of continuing the "cute" idea and reinforcing the scene, the music made me roll my eyes instead.
After my high praise for the film, I can feel you all chomping at the bit to learn about the quality of the transfers for the disc. As you would expect for a new film, they are both excellent. The video (either anamorphic widescreen or full frame) contains sumptuous colors, rich blacks, and realistic contrast and detail. I detected no transfer errors anywhere on the print. Your audio choice is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that has sparkling dialogue and unexpected use of the surrounds and bass. It's far more dynamic than one would presume from a comedy—though most can be attributed to the sizeable use of music tracks.
This "special edition" DVD is the latest to appear to be loaded with special features. In reality, it is not. Everything that is included is pure fluff and unappealing. Every featurette, every game, everything is geared toward kids. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the trouble is that it's not even going to appeal to your kids. The bonus items are: "Early Bloomers" (three minutes; a CGI short about a tadpole who just wants to be part of the group), "Good Morning, Eddie Murphy!" featurette (three minutes; the kids fawn over Eddie), "Meet the Kids of Daddy Day Care" featurette (six minutes; uh, meet the kids), "Quiet on the Set" featurette (six minutes; the kids talk about the director Steve Carr (Next Friday, Dr. Dolittle 2)), "What Did That Kid Say?" featurette (3.5 minutes; the kids tell you why they like to make movies), "Name the Noise Maker" game, "Kid Card Match Up" game, "Odd One Out" game, a blooper reel (which is just another way to get you to watch the credits), and a bunch of trailers for Daddy Day Care, Annie, Matilda, Mona Lisa Smile, Peter Pan, Radio, and The Master of Disguise. This disc does not deserve the "special edition" label.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Judge, you're being far too tough on this movie. The problem is that you have been reviewing this family film from the perspective of an adult. Obviously, you are not the target audience, so you need to put your "change-of-view hat" on to see if it will appeal to the kids that it's meant for. If you were to do that, then you'd see that this is a delightful family film with enough gentle pleasure to satisfy both the children and the parents. Kind Judge, as a never-married man without children, you're just too old and curmudgeonly to enjoy the simple joy of this film.
I stand by my verdict that this is a blah film. Perfectly crafted to neither please nor annoy anyone watching it, Daddy Day Care is a forgettable film that should not have made so much money. To any single person sans kids, you should neither rent nor even consider purchasing this movie. You will find absolutely no long-term redemption within. On the other hand, if you are a parent and in need of a movie the kids haven't already seen twenty billion times, then you could do worse than pick this film…but I suggest only a rental. It will pass the time in relative calm, and you may chuckle once or twice. For anyone who is hoping for a display of the comedic genius of the late Eddie Murphy, you won't find it here.
For its milquetoast portrayal of a family film, Daddy Day Care is hereby released on its own recognizance. This film cannot do any harm to society and is free to go and attempt to bring joy to families around the world.
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Scales of Justice
• "Early Bloomers" Animated Short
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